Kernel Rating (out of 5): (3.5 out of 5)
MPAA Rating: PG-13 Length: 118
Age Appropriate For: 13+. This adaptation of the video game series is mostly campy action fun, with some scenes that might be a little scary for younger viewers: a tomb holds rooms full of corpses; a bicyclist is hit by a car; a major storm destroys a ship and is fairly disorienting to watch; a woman is threatened numerous times by men with weapons, including guns and knives, and has to kill others to survive; people are killed throughout; some characters end up infected with a disease that turns them zombie-like; a parental figure disappears; a mixed martial arts training session is somewhat brutal; someone is given DIY stitches; a character drinks to excess; and some sexually themed threatening moments and cursing.
The latest adaptation of the ‘Tomb Raider’ video games places Oscar winner Alicia Vikander in the role once held by Angelina Jolie, providing a female action star whose physical strength is on par with her cleverness. The movie is as campy and as fun as those preceding films, although it drags on a bit too long and relies on a silly plot twist.
By Roxana Hadadi
The video game movie subgenre simultaneously has inherent flaws and benefits: silly plotting and interchangeable villains on the one hand, and thrilling action sequences and a recklessly fun vibe on the other. It’s a testament to this reboot of the “Tomb Raider” franchise that the film starring Alicia Vikander mostly eschews the bad stuff while embracing the good.
The villains actually feel threatening; the cinematography embraces the visual style of the video game; and the protagonist is strong, tough, and smart, not yet the famed adventurer Lara Croft but a young woman uncovering the mystery of her father’s disappearance. As an experiment in mindless entertainment, “Tomb Raider” mostly works.
This version of “Tomb Raider” pulls not from the original video games, which were what inspired the preceding two “Tomb Raider” films starring Angelina Jolie as Croft, but by the 2013 reboot of the game, which not only redesigned the character physically (making her more anatomically correct) but created a separate origin story. And so Lara (Vikander, of “Jason Bourne”) is not yet a gun-toting, world-traveling archeologist, but a woman in her early 20s trying to scrape together a living in London, where she works as a bike courier and trains in mixed martial arts. The people she hangs around with don’t really know what she’s doing in their world—she’s too polished, too prone to randomly quoting “Hamlet”—and things take a turn when she’s involved in an accident and has to turn back to her family for help.
That family is the Crofts, who run an expansive company, own a manor, and are basically rolling in cash. But Lara’s father, Lord Richard (Dominic West, of “Finding Dory”), disappeared seven years ago, and Tokyo police stopped looking for him five years ago, and while Lara tells Croft representative and her former guardian Ana Miller (Kristin Scott Thomas, of “My Old Lady”), that she’s fine on her own, she still needs to declare her father “dead in absentia” so the Croft company can keep moving forward.
But when Lara goes to the Croft offices to do just that, she receives a Japanese puzzle box, the kind that she remembers her father always working on—and inside, she finds a note in her father’s hand: “The first letter from my final destination.” With only that clue, she embarks on a journey that takes her from London to Hong Kong, where she meets ship captain Lu Ren (Daniel Wu, of “Warcraft”), whose father disappeared when Lara’s father did, and then to the island Yamatai in the Devil’s Sea, where Lara hopes to finally find answers regarding her father’s obsession with the “hint of another realm.”
Screenwriters Geneva Robertson-Dworet and Alastair Siddons do a good job building Lara into a character who is simultaneously principled and persuasive; she won’t back down from a negotiation in a pawn shop or a fight against three pickpockets, and her confidence in herself and in her abilities makes for some great action sequences, like a chase through a Hong Kong pier and a room where a puzzle must be solved to keep the floor from collapsing. Director Roar Uthaug delivers visuals that pay homage to the video games while looking great on the big screen, like Lara lowering herself into a tomb, with her flashlight illuminating the thick darkness below, or Lara launching herself across a chasm as she races away from an explosion, or Lara hauling herself up over a waterfall, only to realize that the crashed airplane in which she found refuge is just as dangerous as the cliff below. And Vikander is game for all of it. The movie focuses on her physical strength but doesn’t turn her invincible, and that compromise helps make the character believable and relatable.
There are other solid elements, too, like the villain played by Walton Goggins (of “Maze Runner: The Death Cure”), a man driven less by evil motivations than by a desire to return home to a family he hasn’t seen in seven years, and Wu’s character, Lu Ren, who never slips into sidekick status; he has his own compelling narrative. But the film misses the ending a bit, offering up a twist that doesn’t make sense narratively and instead only serves to set up a sequel, and transforming the character played by Vikander into a copy of the one played by Jolie. Why this version of Lara would gleefully pick up a couple of guns when the character never expressed an interest in firearms in the preceding film is jarringly inconsistent. “Tomb Raider” may get the ending wrong, but before those final 15 minutes, it’s mostly uncomplicated, exciting stuff.
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